Biomarkers were measured in residents of Wilrijk and Hoboken, industrial suburbs of the city of Antwerp, and of Peer, a rural municipality in Flanders, Belgium. Persons with known occupational exposures to toxic compounds or commuting over long distances were excluded. Here, we report the hypoxanthine phosphoribosyltransferase gene (HPRT) variant frequencies for 99 non-smoking women aged 50-65 years. HPRT values above the detection limit (V(fpos) values) were observed for 43 subjects (21 from Peer, 22 from Antwerp). The median (10th to 90th percentiles) HPRT variant frequency (V(fpos)) in peripheral lymphocytes was 9.59 (3.44-56.99) for Peer and 3.57 (1.57-13.96) for Antwerp. The V(fpos) value was significantly higher in Peer than in Antwerp, both in terms of crude data (p=0.011) and after correction for age, level of education, smoking status, serum level of selenium and body mass index through analysis of covariance (p=0.011). For the total study population, serum lead concentration showed a non-significant positive correlation with lnV(fpos). In addition, subjects with a blood lead concentration above the median tended to have higher V(fpos) values (9.45x10(-6) for 'high' group versus 5.21x10(-6) for 'low' group; p=0.077 after correction for confounding). Subjects with a serum selenium level above the median tended to have lower V(fpos) values (4.99x10(-6) for 'high' group versus 9.83x10(-6) for 'low' group; p=0.051 after correction for confounding). These data are consistent with an indirect genotoxic effect of lead and with an antimutagenic effect of selenium.